Yankees honor 102-year-old Navarro
'Millito' was first Puerto Rican to play in Negro Leagues
NEW YORK -- As Emilio "Millito" Navarro stood on the field at Yankee Stadium, talking animatedly with a group of New York players, it was hard to believe what they were celebrating.
Navarro smiled as the Yankees presented him with a birthday cake in honor of his 103rd birthday, which will take place Sept. 26. He was the Bombers' special guest Thursday, and the Yankees welcomed the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro Leagues. He is the oldest living professional baseball player.
With the exception of needing some help up the stairs of the dugout, the 102-year-old Navarro made his way through the hallways and onto the field with excitement. And prior to Thursday night's contest against the White Sox, he made the most of his first visit to Yankee Stadium. Halfway between the pitcher's mound and home plate, Navarro stood before the home crowd, waved his hat to a flood of cheers and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"It is a great place for me, no matter my age," Navarro said. "This is a dream for me, and I think I am in heaven."
When he was presented with his birthday cake just before batting practice, Robinson Cano shook Navarro's hand and introduced him to some of his teammates, including Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Jose Molina, Damaso Marte and Ivan Rodriguez.
The cake originally had five candles on it, but Navarro asked that one be removed because there are only four bases in baseball.
As a boy, Navarro played baseball as an escape. His mother would punish him when he came home with dirt on his clothes, so he was forced to tell her that he had been playing ball. But though he had to hide it at first, Navarro's talent and involvement in the sport was soon thrust into the spotlight.
He played with New York's Cuban Stars of the Eastern Colored League and the American Negro League from 1928-29, taking the field mostly at shortstop and second base. His baseball career spanned 20 years as he joined teams in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela following his time with the Stars. He was elected to the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame in 1992.
The Yankees selected Navarro in Major League Baseball's 2008 Special Negro League Draft on June 5, when each club ceremonially selected a player whose career included time in the Negro Leagues.
"We are all very happy and glad that he's here today," said Felix Lopez, a Yankees official who presented Navarro with a Yankees bat. "We're proud that he represents so much that is baseball. The only mistake we, the Yankees, made, was to draft him so late."
The Bombers arranged for Navarro to visit Yankee Stadium during its final week, and the former player's son, grandson and great-grandson all stood beside him during the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.